MideastWeb Middle East Web Log

log  archives  middle east  maps  history   documents   countries   books   encyclopedia   culture   dialogue   links    timeline   donations 


Strengthening Middle East Moderates


In Yediot Ahronot, Ray Hanania writes that a way must be found to bring forth moderate leadership and moderate policies in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. There can be no doubt in the mind of any decent person that Ray Hanania is right. The question we have all been asking is how to bring about this miracle.

Hanania wrote:

The reality is that until we find leaders on both sides who have a vision for a just and fair peace, things will worsen.

There's going to be more violence. More killing. More frustration. More parents crying over the death of their children. More families weeping at the loss of their land. More communities despondent as violent events darken their hopes for peace.

But as things do get worse, hope becomes more powerful.

One of the big problems in this conflict is that the extremists have always had so much power. Instead of seeking peace, they play to public emotions to "settle scores." But when you settle one score, you create new scores to be settled on the other side.

Palestinian extremists have always used violence as a response to Israeli actions. Israeli extremists have always used the violence to justify more violence, more home demolitions, more land confiscation and more illegal settlements.

It's just a part of the vicious circle of life that dominates Palestinian and Israeli relations.

Is there an Israeli leader who has the courage to do what needs to be done? Is there a Palestinian leader who has the courage to do what needs to be done?

To which we must say for the most part, "Amen, Amen and Amen."

However, it has always been thus it seems, and not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but all over the Middle East. The extremists, as Hanania wrote, always have too much power. Regardless of the public interest or what the real majority of the people may want, there is a mechanism that ensures that policy will be dictated by the most extreme position. Until and unless we admit that this is so, and try to understand why it is so and how to redress the problem, we have no real hope of progress in any front in the Middle East.

Let's take an issue that is unrelated to Israeli-Palestinian relations. Not long ago a well meaning American wrote about the issue of honor killings in Jordanian society. So-called "honor" killings are killings of female relatives who have supposedly dishonored the family name by having improper sexual relations. She cited opinion polls that show that most Jordanians disapprove of honor killings and want to change the laws that grant leniency to such murderers. She concluded therefore that the matter would take care of itself, and that further public relations campaigns or political support for opponents of honor killings is not needed. She was wrong, because she doesn't understand the mechanisms by which extremists can control issues. The law in Jordan will not change without a tremendous effort, because the extremists do not want the law to change. If the government tries to effect a real change, the government will be delegitimized as "infidels" and supporters of Western values. Extremist opponents of the Hashemite constitutional monarchy can't wait to sink their teeth into such a juicy religious issue that can be exploited to blacken to government. The Jordanian government, which has almost always shown excellent political insight, knows this very well. It is probably not worth risking the kingdom over an issue like honor killings.

Let's take a different issue, far removed from the Middle East. There is no doubt that as private citizens, most Americans use birth control and would turn to abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Yet for many years there was fierce legislation against disseminating birth control information and abortions were illegal. Now again, somehow, the state of South Dakota has managed to pass draconian anti-abortion legislation and President Bush has packed the Supreme Court with judges who may overturn the Roe vs Wade decision that allowed abortions.

No country is immune of course. For years Israeli rights groups have complained that settlers uproot and destroy Palestinian olive trees and commit bodily violence against innocent Palestinians, but nothing is done. Extraordinarily, PM Ehud Olmert's government admitted that these injustices occur, and are deplorable, but they are in fact unlikely to do anything about it. The settlers are still protected by an enormous lobby, based on religious and political organization and on misappropriation of national and religious symbols. Consider how difficult it was to remove the illegal outpost of Amona, even though this was the dictate of the law, the will of the Israeli people and the necessary outcome of a solemn undertaking that the Israeli government gave to the United States and other countries responsible for the Roadmap. There are still dozens of outposts and removing each trailer is going to be an uphill fight, though they are supported by a small minority of the Israeli people.

How is this possible in a democracy? It is possible because of the mechanisms that allow extremism to work:

  • Extremists derive legitimacy from consensus symbols such as national ideals and religious teachings.

  • Extremists are entrenched in organized religious groups. Organizations have political power beyond their numbers.

  • Extremists take control of key positions in society and national leadership, professional organizations and educational institutions.

  • Using national and religious symbols, extremists discredit moderates by labeling them as traitors or Infidels.

  • Extremists can mobilize committed followers who will speak out on behalf of their positions and create a seeming consensus. Moderates are usually apathetic about the issues and will not speak out.

  • Extremists need an enemy. If none exists, one is invented. The enemy is painted as an existential threat to God and country.

  • Extremists force hypocrisy - people with moderate private positions are afraid to speak out; they may be labeled as traitors.

  • Extremist policies force extremist reactions by "the enemy, and these, as Hanania notes, in turn feed extremism.

  • If all else fails, extremists use violence or threats of violence.

In Lebanon, the Hezbollah and agents of Syrian intelligence prop up an unpopular president, a Syrian puppet who is suspected of involvement in the murder of Rafiq Hariri. Can it be imagined that most Lebanese don't want to oust President Emile Lahoud? Hezbollah also serves Syrian interests in propping up a pointless state of war with Israel and finds a transparent excuse to maintain themselves as an armed militia. Religion and nationalism are harnessed to support the interests of extremists. The excuse is that Israel holds a few square meters of Lebanese territory, the Sheba farms. Whoever might really own it, this territory was ruled by Syria for dozens of years but nobody in Lebanon ever cared. Can it be imagined that a majority of Lebanese really want the Hezbollah to maintain their arms and continue their "resistance?" They are not resisting any Israeli occupation. They are only resisting the legitimate government of Lebanon. However, anyone who speaks out or writes against the Hezbollah or the Syrians may meet the fate of Gebran Tueni, editor of an-Nahar, who paid for his opinions with his life.

Hanania points out correctly that the real struggle in Israeli and Palestinian societies is between the moderates and the extremists in each society. That idea could well be extended to the conclusion that the real battle in the entire Middle East - or in the world for that matter, is between the moderates and the extremists. What a wonderful editorial was written by Mohamed Galadari of the Khaleej Times when an Iranian went berserk and ran down people in a US mall as a "protest" against treatment of Muslims by the west! He wrote:

Before you blame anyone for the fate of Muslims around the globe, you should have taken a little pain to know what, or who, was the real cause for such a situation. As a matter of fact, those who have let down Muslims are those from within their own ranks, and not outsiders.
The Iranian boy, and those like him who are upset over what they see around them, should use their energy in positive ways. They must essentially help change the scenario for the better by pushing for the process of reforms within the Muslim world, leading to enlightenment about what's wrong within. That's the way, rather than taking out their frustrations on others.

The real enemies of the moderation in each society are the extremists on both sides. What can Galadari tell Muslims when Pat Robertson insists that Islam is not a religion of peace, and is intent on world domination? What can Christian moderates tell their people when Muslim or Arab extremists murder CPT peace activist Tom Fox?? Is it enough to say "turn the other cheek?" What can Palestinian moderates tell their people when settlers rampage and destroy their olive trees? What can Israeli moderates tell their people when Palestinians elect a government that insists it won't make peace with Israel unless Israel accepts impossible terms that would mean the end of Jewish national self determination? What can Abu Mazen tell his people when the "centrist" party in Israel unveils plans to annex significant portions of the West Bank and ignore Palestinian rights? Many of these actions are not really directed against the other side, but rather result from the need for political one-upsmanship within societies. Elections can only be won by being more fanatic than the opposition, and the biggest donations will go to the biggest fanatics. There are too few Mohamed Galadris in the Middle East, people who are not afraid to speak out for moderation, who can afford to do it, and they have too little support.

Not surprisingly, when the price of dissent can be political, commercial or even actual death, the moderates become silent. In some cases, they line up to provide support and justification for extremists. In moderate Lebanese newspapers, we can read, from time to time, the most amazing editorials in praise of the Hezbollah or in justification of Islamist extremism. After all, discretion is the better part of valor. The people however, read the editorials and form their opinions accordingly, legitimizing the foulest sort of extremism.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not begin in 1967, when the Israeli occupation started, nor even in 1948, when Palestinians and Arab states made war against the UN partition plan. Long before then, Palestinian society had been taken over by extremists. The Husseini family founded the El Futuwwa "resistance," officially called "Nazi Scouts" (see Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, 1999, page 124) in the 1930s. A major activity of this group during the Palestinian Arab uprising of 1936-9 was to murder and terrorize moderate Palestinian opposition, and to ensure that only the most extreme opinions would be accepted as legitimate. On the Jewish side, the uprising spawned the terrorist activities of the Irgun against Arab civilians. The conflict has played out in the shadow of these events, and according to the same mechanism, at least ever since that time. Then as now there were moderates and extremists. Under the mandate there was Husseini and his Nazi scouts on one side, and Nashashibi on the other for the Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Jews had Brit Shalom and the dream of a binational state on one side, and Jabotinsky and the Irgun on the other. The extremists won and the moderate opinions were swept aside. Today we have Meretz and Abu Mazen on one side, the settlers and the Hamas on the other. Abu Mazen and the Fatah have now been eclipsed by the Hamas. Now as then, the extremists have had their way.

On each side, the extremists never cease to remind their public of the need for revenge. They inflate every bit of rock and real-estate, and every issue, no matter how unimportant it has been in history and tradition, into a key holy place or holy issue that absolutely must not be given up. How many Jews ever thought about Hebron between the exile in 70 AD and the riots there in the 1920s, and how many thought about Hebron between the riots and the Israeli conquest in 1967? Israeli families who had some connection with Hebron remembered the riots, and orthodox Jews remembered that Abraham is buried there of course, but nobody ever said we could not live without it. Yet today it seems politically impossible to remove the settlers of Hebron.

Picture a Palestinian refugee living in a camp in Lebanon with unpaved roads, no sewage, no prospects. Wouldn't this refugee like to live a better life in a comfortable home, with a good job and education in Nablus or Qalqilieh or Dubai or in Sydney Australia? Does he or she really want to rot in a camp forever? But the extremists made Right of Return into a flagship issue. The salvation of refugees, according to them, can only come by destroying Israel as a Jewish state and recreating 1948 Palestine. Until such time as the clock of history can be wound backwards against the dictates of international law to destroy a member state of the UN, Palestinian Arab refugees are doomed to live in misery. Right of Return is a destructive sacred cow. It blocked an Israeli-Palestinian settlement in 2000, and now it helped to bring Hamas to power. Powerful and organized lobbies like Badil find international funding to prop up this issue and perpetuate extremism. No leaders on either side such as Mr. Hanania or I would like to see, will be forthcoming as long as this is the way societies are run. They cannot make a deal because the extremists have rigged public opinion against a possible settlement.
In the Daily Star, Rami Khouri noted:

Islamists should be called religio-nationalists, or theo-nationalists, because they now tend to combine the twin forces of religion and nationalism. "My God and my people" may be the two most powerful mass mobilization forces ever invented by human civilization.

Islamists, like other extremists, make use of both God and country. But they did not invent this combination and they didn't invent it now. Didn't Khomeini and his Islamic revolution use the same combination in Iran in 1979? Didn't the Palestinian Mufti use the same combination 70 years ago? Didn't
Saddam Hussein, the Baathist, write "Allahu Akbar" on the flag of Iraq?

Khouri, who lives in Lebanon and cannot afford to be a Mohamed Galadari, then falls into line with Islamist flim-flam. He writes:

Islamist groups in turn have responded with an irresistible package that speaks to the citizenry about religion, national identity, legitimate governance, and resistance to foreign occupation and subjugation. That's why there is nothing surprising about victorious Islamists. The best response to their victories, whether you like or dislike the Islamists, is to understand the political, national and personal issues that have generated their victories, and to address the real grievances behind them...

It sounds good, but what stands behind it? Why is this package so "irresistible?" What could Rami Khouri be talking about? What personal issue will be addressed for the women of Beirut or Cairo if the Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood forces them to veil their faces and denies their rights to equality? What personal issue is addressed for the people of Iran when President Ahmedinejad rants about the Holocaust? What issue of "legitimate governance" was served by the rigged elections in Iran and what "legitimate governance can there be in a government where a council of Imams has veto power over every decision? What issue of Lebanese "national identity" is served when the Hezbollah obstructs the will of the people and maintains a discredited Syrian puppet as President of Lebanon? What issue of "legitimate governance" is served? The only real issue of "foreign subjugation" in Lebanon for well over a decade, has been subjugation to the domination of Syria. Rafik Hariri was murdered because he dared to speak out against this subjugation. Gebran Tueni and others were martyrs in the same cause. Hezbollah is a big part of this problem and refuses to be part of the solution. Applied to actual situations, Khouri's fine phrases make no sense. Khouri is a victim of the system that forces reasonable people into positions where they must legitimize even the most absurd extremist opinions. He cannot escape his fate.

Returning to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, we can ask, what has happened just now? The Israelis stormed Jericho prison to prevent the release of PFLP leader Ahmed Sa'adat and other wanted terrorists. Everyone can show they are right and in reality everyone may be wrong. Abu Mazen was forced to say he would allow the release of Sa'adat because of extremist pressure. Ehud Olmert could not do otherwise then to assault the prison and prevent the release of Sa'adat, especially before Israeli elections. Political survival comes first on both sides. The newspaper editors and the public automatically lined up behind the "correct" opinion on the respective sides. Regardless of right or wrong, the makers of public opinion, moderate or extreme, lined up behind the "right" opinion on each side. Could it be any other way?

However, the overused cliche "cycle of violence," doesn't help us understand the stranglehold of extremism. Palestinian extremists gained from the assault on the Jericho prison because they can use it as a rallying cry against the "Zionist enemy" and discredit moderates. The PFLP can make Ahmed Sa'adat into a big hero. He would have been a hero if he went down fighting, but he is also a hero though he surrendered in his underwear. But if Olmert had simply ignored the issue and Sa'adat were freed, the PFLP and other extremists could also claim a victory: they would have outfaced the Zionists and gotten away with murder. Hamas would score points for strengthening the "resistance" and lawlessness would be vindicated.

Israeli withdrawal from Gaza helped the Hamas to victory, but continued Israeli occupation of Gaza might have generated more extremism and and bigger victories for Hamas. Palestinian quiescence encouraged the settlement expansion policies of Israeli governments in the seventies and eighties. Palestinian resistance serves as an excuse to perpetuate and expand the settlement enterprise and helps right-wing parties. "Damned if you do and damned if you don't." Extremists manuever societies into no-win positions.

What is the secret that allows moderation and reason to win out at least sometimes in Western societies? It is the existence of organizations that really represent indpendent citizens at least to some extent, rather than representing in reality only clans, feudal lords, organized religion and armed gangs. Grass roots NGOs and political parties, where they exist, can provide vehicles for the real will of the majority to be expressed in public policy. In European societies, it took hundreds of years for these mechanisms to emerge. If we want moderation to triumph in the Middle East, the moderate cause needs active help. The best leaders with the best intentions often cannot change political reality single-handed. Faced with the organized resistance of the extremists, they may avoid doing the right thing, or they may meet an untimely end at the hands of assassins.

Wishing for better times and better leaders is not enough. Moderate leadership won't succeed in the Middle East until and unless the mechanisms that can support pragmatism become strong enough to overcome the extremists' organization, identification with symbols of legitimacy and ability to manipulate the system.

Any change or any tool can be used poorly or well, depending on how society is organized to use it. The printing press and universal education helped to bring about democracy in Europe, but the schools can be used to teach hate and the press can be used to disseminate incitement. As long as extremists set the agenda, reforms on paper, like every other change, will be exploited by extremists to advance their cause. "Democracy" may elect Hizbullah in Lebanon and Muslim brothers in Egypt and Syria, as it elected Hamas to lead the Palestinians. The real battle of the moderates against the extremists is to ensure that the processes of reform are moved forward, and that they are not coopted by extremists like everything else in the Middle East.

Ami Isseroff

If you like this post - click to Reddit!
add to del.icio.usAdd to digg - digg it

Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000440.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 03:14 PM CST [Link]


Middle East e-Zine

Midde East News

Opinion Digest

Late Updates


Middle East Glossary

Middle East Maps

Middle East Books

Middle East Documents

Israel-Palestine History

Israel-Palestine Timeline

Middle East Countries

Middle East Economy

Middle East Population

Middle East Health

Zionism History

Palestinian Parties

Palestinian Refugees

Peace Plans


Middle East


Blog Links

OneVoice - Israeli-Palestinian Peace Blog

Bravo411 -Info Freedom

Israel News


Michael Brenner

Dutchblog Israel

Dutch - IMO (Israel & Midden-Oosten) Blog (NL)



Alas, a Blog

Little Green Footballs

Blue Truth

Fresno Zionism

Reut Blog

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Blog

Simply Jews: Judaism and Israel

Jeff Weintraub - Commentaries and Controversies

Vital Perspective


Meretz USA Weblog


MIDEAST observer

On the Contrary

Blogger News Network- BNN

Google Sex Maps

Demediacratic Nation

Realistic Dove

Tulip - Israeli-Palestinian Trade Union Assoc.

On the Face

Israel Palestjnen (Dutch)

Middle East Analysis

Israel: Like This, As If

Middle East Analysis

Mid_East Journal

Z-Word Blog

Dvar Dea

SEO for Everyone

Web Sites & Pages

Israeli-Palestinian Procon

End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Voice


ATFP- American Task Force on Palestine

Americans For Peace Now

Shalom Achshav

Chicago Peace Now


Peacechild Israel

Bridges of Peace


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict



Zionism and Israel

Zionism and Israel on the Web

Israel - Palestina:Midden-Oosten Conflict + Zionisme

Israël in de Media

Euston Manifesto

New Year Peace


Christian Zionism

Jew Hate

Space Shuttle Blog

Israel News Magazine


My Ecosystem Details
International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Link 2 us
We link 2 U.
MidEastWeb- Middle East News & Views
MidEastWeb is not responsible for the content of linked Web sites

Please do not leave notes for MidEastWeb editors here. Hyperlinks are not displayed. We may delete or abridge comments that are longer than 250 words, or consist entirely of material copied from other sources, and we shall delete comments with obscene or racist content or commercial advertisements. Comments should adhere to Mideastweb Guidelines . IPs of offenders will be banned.

Powered By Greymatter

[Previous entry: "Ehud Fit the battle of Jericho Jail"] Main Index [Next entry: "Iraquagmire - Putting an end to the Iraqi nightmare"]


Thank you for visiting MidEastWeb - Middle East.
If you like what you see here, tell others about the MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log - www.mideastweb.org/log/.

Contact Us


Editors' contributions are copyright by the authors and MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.
Please link to main article pages and tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Do not copy MidEastWeb materials to your Web Site. That is a violation of our copyright. Click for copyright policy.
MidEastWeb and the editors are not responsible for content of visitors' comments.
Please report any comments that are offensive or racist.

Editors can log in by clicking here

Technorati Profile

RSS FeedRSS feed Add to Amphetadesk Add to Amphetadesk

USA Credit Card - Donate to MidEastWeb  On-Line - Help us live and grow